28 (rough draft)
“One for breakfast?” the host at The Franklin’s restaurant asked James Avery as Avery entered.
“I’m meeting Ellington,” he replied, and was shown to a table.
Augustine Duke Ellington did not get up. “Jim, how have you been?”
“Probably taking it too easy lately, Duke.” Avery sat, waving off a menu, nodding to a third man. “Just coffee, please.”
“They cook a fine egg here. Worth crossing the bridge for.”
“I love the city, but I like the Jersey side.” Again, he glanced at the third man. “James Avery,” he introduced himself. “I run the Edgewood-Post.”
“Carpenter,” the man answered with a nod and crooked smile.
Avery waited for more, realized Carpenter wasn’t going to offer anything and turned back to Ellington. “You’re going to have a letter come across your desk today concerning the firing of Randi Sconce over at Edgewood.”
Ellington was around the same age of Avery, mid-sixties, with his hair white, he appeared much older. Athletic, he dressed smartly in a dark blue suit, his chin strong and eyes hard, brown. “Randi, huh? I know her well. Hired her myself, let’s see, ten, twelve years ago. She has a way of being progressive, yet holding a conservative line. What kind of trouble has my Randi gotten herself in? She didn’t strangle Markus, did she?”
Avery glanced again at Carpenter, Carpenter seemingly detached from the conversation. “Funny you should say that. Markus fired her.”
“He can’t do that, doesn’t have the power.”
“He did and it seems he does.” Avery produced his note pad. “He brought in his own lawyer, Howell.”
Avery flipped pages. “Yes, George Howell. You know him. He’s from the West Coast.”
“We have a personal, not professional relationship, but yes, I know him.”
“How well is well?” Avery asked.
“How well is well, what?”
“How well do you know Randi?”
“I’ve not been to her house and kissed her babies or anything, if that’s what you mean.” He winked. “I was on the short list of wedding invites.”
Avery narrowed his eyes. “Everything we say here is off the record.”
“Nothing is ever off the record, Jim.”
“What I mean is that I’m not here for a story, but as an advocate for Randi Sconce.”
“Snakes bite, is what they do.”
“Fair enough. You want the long story or the short?”
“Short. I have a busy day.”
“Markus got Randi with the morality clause.”
Ellington rolled his eyes. “Because Randi’s a lesbian? I wondered how Markus would handle that when he found out.”
“Not exactly. Her wife is Melody Lark.”
“Do you know what Lark does for a living?”
“Teaches Sunday school.” He snickered. “She makes adult films, sure I know. I’m an adult. I’m glad I asked for the short story.”
“That’s what Markus fired her for.”
“Markus fired Randi because Randi’s wife is a pornographer.”
Ellington looked toward Carpenter. “No wonder Markus went for an outside lawyer. Benet would have laughed at him, this being New Jersey and not Texas.”
“Indeed,” Carpenter agreed, nodding.
Back to Avery, Ellington said, “You could have handled this with a phone call. Nobody’s getting fired.”
“I thought you should be made aware of the entire story.”
He rolled his eyes. “Markus is a bigot and a misogynist, which he manages to keep out of the work place. Hardly a story.”
“You left out homophobe.”
“Bigot, misogynist and homophobe come as a package. It’s a trifecta. He keeps most of it out of the workplace. We thought with the mixing of the five diverse school districts, we’d need a strong presence in the wheel house. Despite everything else, Markus is a strong presence.”
“Duke, he has a thing for little girls.”
“Take it easy there, Avery. You’re a newspaper man. You know you have to watch the words you use.”
“You’re right. That does make it sound just a little worse than it is. Markus has a predilection for a particular type of little girl. I have a full report.”
“Why’s he still sitting in the principal’s chair?”
“It’s all speculation and conjecture.”
“Then you don’t have a full report.”
“This is what Randi Sconce was working on, pushing hard on Markus. This is why Markus fired her.” For dramatic effect, Avery placed October’s five by seven glossy school photo from sixth grade on the table. “This is his type, October Ferguson.”
Carpenter rose, walking off quickly.
“Odd fellow,” Avery said.
“Yes, he is.”
Amaretto stood on the train platform, aware of the many sets of investigating eyes. Men, and some of the younger women, liked to look at her. She dressed with that in mind, her black translucent camisole top, short-cut denim jacket, black thigh-highs, her flared black corduroy skirt short enough to show a white strip of her thighs as she walked perched on four inch heeled boots.
She considered traditional makeup, October’s eyes having danced on her face, October saying how beautiful Amaretto was natural. Before breakfast, October put Amaretto’s hair in two braids, one on either side of her head. She liked her hair braided, but didn’t have the will or the patience to do it. Amaretto had to stop by CVS on the way to the train, her lipstick missing from October’s Rucksack, Amaretto thinking she may have left it in school.
She was glad to have angry Hello Kitty back, finding comfort in routine and comfort knowing October carried the bag.
The morning commuters crowded the yellow line, many leaning forward to look for the train. A man leaned close as if smelling Amaretto. “Creep,” she said to herself. A train appeared in the distance, the commuters clotting. As if a blob, the mass rolled back, realizing the train was an express, not slowing.
Amaretto stepped forward, her heels just touching the yellow line, the train screaming at her, the wind raking her face. She thought she should laugh evilly, death kissing her, standing so close. Stepping in front of the train would be easy, she thought. Making October cry would not be so easy.
The faceless people behind her pressed forward again as she put her phone to her ear. “Hey, Fisher. I’ve got something to do. I’ll try to make lunch.”
“Huh?” he answered. “How’d you get this number?”
“Take care of it.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Get up from your desk, leave your office, go to the right, walk about twenty feet, open up the attendance page on the computer and mark me as present. It’s not difficult.”
Amaretto could see him biting his lip.
“Okay, but –”
She broke the connection. “I don’t care about my attendance. I just want to make you jump through hoops.”
Amaretto entered the office as she entered anywhere: as if she owned it. Heads turned, she greeted faces with a smile and a nod, moving among the exterior desks until she saw the door she wanted, opened on a crack. She ignored the requests to help her and the one you can’t just go in there, pushing the door open. “Hey, George.”
“Apple. What are you doing here?” He waved his secretary off, nodding for the door to be shut.
She strolled to the window. “Nice view.” She glanced back. “I bet the view is even better from there.” She shrugged. “You said you wanted to see me. Don’t you remember the phone call?”
“I thought you could stop over the house.”
“You sounded so professional and all.” She turned, watching his eyes. “I don’t mind coming all the way to the city, just to see you.”
George Howell glanced his watch. “We can do this, if you have time.” He placed a yellow pad on his desk.
“I’m yours all day if you want.”
“This shouldn’t take long.” He scribbled on the pad. “Tell me what happened, in your own words.”
Amaretto left the window, coming beside Howell, leaning on the desk, looking down. “In regard to what?”
Howell glanced up, watching her eyes for a long moment, then dropping to her erect nibbles teasing the nylon camisole around the cut of the denim jacket. “At school, of course,” he answered, returning to the pad. Pointing with his pen, he said, “You can sit over there if you like.”
“I’m okay right here, if it’s all right with you.”
“Fisher attacked you.”
“There’s a police report and video.”
“I want your version.”
“So you can sue. I think you’re looking at a big payday.”
She shrugged, dropping her hand on his upper arm. “He didn’t do any permanent damage and I did hit him first, you know.”
“Candy called me from the hospital.”
“Abby. She hates being called Candy. I remember. I should sue to get out in front of them suing me. Abby told me. Me and Morgan, that’s my mom, talked about it. If I were a guy, there’d be no suit even suggested.” She rolled her eyes. “Fisher is an asshole, I get all that. Most people are assholes.”
“According to the police report, Fisher touched you in a way he never should have.”
“Give me your hand, George. I’ll show you exactly what he did.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Really, George, it’s no big deal.”
“Really, not necessary.”
Amaretto returned to the window, hands behind her back, rocking. “Did you meet Markus?”
“I did, yes.”
“He was all up in Ockie’s face.”
“October Ferguson,” he said to himself, scribbling.
“That’s the girl.”
“This was in school?”
“Yes, in the hallway.”
“Time and date?”
“I didn’t look at my watch.”
“Okay. We can figure that out later.”
“It was weird, George. Like, you met them both. Markus has to be four times Ockie’s size, and here he is, pushing her against the lockers.”
“What did he want?”
“I didn’t ask. Ockie said something about Markus wanting her to go back to his office with him so he could talk about God. I think Markus meant so he could scream Oh God I’m coming. He’s a professional creep. I think what makes him so creepy is that he doesn’t know he’s creepy, and that makes him dangerous.”
“You feel it was sexual harassment?”
She glanced from the window, over her shoulder. “George, it was his-dick-coming-out short of sexual harassment.”
“What did you do?”
“I put my Mace in his face. I was a nano-second from pushing the button when Markus ducked and covered, telling me he’s been sprayed before and often. Fucking creep.”
“Wait.” He shuffled papers. “You have Mace?” He found a note. “Says here it was lipstick.”
“I was searched, no Mace. Sconce even went through my bag.”
“But, you did have Mace?”
“Everything you tell me is covered by privilege.”
“I’m sure.” He did not catch her sarcasm. “Markus went all boo-hoo, I was picking on him, and sent his dog, Fisher to arrest me or whatever, cop escort and all.” Yet, another shrug. “Fisher goosed me and I hit him.”
“Why’d you hit him?”
“I didn’t have my Mace? If you were a girl, you’d understand why I hit him. You’re a guy, so you will understand why he hit me back.”
“I really feel you have a good case here. They’ll settle before we get to trial, but if we go to trial, all we need do is put you next to Fisher. It doesn’t matter who threw the first punch.”
Amaretto came from the window, looking down on Howell across the desk. “There’ll be no suit. Yesterday, Fisher and Markus had me down the office, taking turns kissing my ass. I got something close to a sexual thrill watching them grovel at my feet. Howell, until lately, no one has groveled at my feet. Now, in school, I have a get-out-of-fucking-anything card. Court, a suit, a trial and money? Fuck that, Howell. I have power.”
Howell sat with his mouth open, unable to turn away.
Amaretto liked what she saw in Howell’s eyes, something akin to fear, maybe even respect. She looked for lust, for want, for sexual desire, throwing everything she had at him. She even gave Howell a reasonable excuse to run his hand over her underwear and he declined without hesitation. She wanted to say, I know you’re fucking with Abby and if you hurt her, I’ll fuck you up, but she didn’t want to reveal her motives, driving him farther into the dark.
Maybe he’s gay, Amaretto thought, entering the elevator. She knew Howell was fucking with Candice. She could smell it on him. Stepping back, she couldn’t convince herself one hundred percent. Amaretto, Abby’s age, couldn’t get any rise out of Howell. October, making herself available, didn’t get a rise out of Howell, either.
“Maybe Howell has a type, like Markus,” Amaretto said aloud. Nothing made sense. “If it’s not about the sex, then what?”
Amaretto drank in the dark and damp of the underground train station below the streets of Philly. “Sweet,” she said aloud, putting her phone to her ear, surprised she got a signal. “Hi, this is Morgan Stayman,” she greeted. “I wanted to call to inform you that Amaretto will not be in school today. She’s in a really dark place and when she gets like this, I’m afraid she might hurt someone.”
“I’m sorry?” the voice answered.
“I’m only kidding. The way that freak of a daughter dresses all the time most people think she’s one cruel joke away from going on a shooting spree. Her tummy is a bit upset this morning, so I’m keeping her home.”
“Odd,” the voice said. “We have her logged at school today.”
“I’m looking right at her, her head in the toilet. You’d better check to see who’s been in your computer falsifying records.”
“We don’t have a login like that.”
“You have security cameras.”
Amaretto closed her phone, imagining how Fisher would answer the questions as to why he was changing attendance records.
Maynard exited the school. “There you are.”
Casey snuggled in his hood. “I said I’d be here.”
“Sure, I mean, well, what do you want? You said you had something important.”
Casey paused, eyeing a blue Chevy Malibu as it made its way slowly on the street thirty feet away finally coming to a stop just beyond the student drop off. He squinted at the Hello Kitty sticker and New York tags.
“I’ve seen that car before.”
Maynard turned as a man, short, dark hair, neatly but casually dressed, came around the car, heading for the entrance. “Cop.”
“Cop?” Casey repeated.
“A detective, Banner I think his name is. I’d be more surprised if you’ve never seen his car before.”
Banner disappeared through the school entrance.
Casey looked hard at the car, positive it was the same car he saw in Philly. “You kissed October.”
Unaware how serious the crime, Maynard shrugged. “Not exactly correct, Case. I never looked at Ockie that way, you know. Then she gets all sexed up like that, you know.”
“I don’t know. I’m stupid, remember. Please explain it to me. I thought you had a thing for Brig.”
“Brig’s okay to pal about with, you know, like one of the guys, you know.”
“You keep saying you know as if I do. I really don’t.”
“Okay, Case. I did not kiss Ockie, which doesn’t mean I didn’t try.”
“Why the fuck would you do that, Nard?”
“Because she’s hot? Why else?”
“Let me make this as clear as I can, Nard.” Casey punched Maynard just above the stomach, Maynard doubling over. Casey dropped to a knee, a hand on Maynard’s back. “Don’t ever touch October again or I’ll really fuck you up. Nod if you get me.”
Maynard nodded, holding his stomach.
“Thanks for your consideration in this matter. I’m late for class.”
Just inside the school, Casey dropped his hood back. Detective Robert Banner, on his way out, glanced, recoiling.
“Hey, Banner,” Casey said. “I know what you do in Philly.”
Banner took Casey by the shoulders of his hoodie, pushing Casey against the lockers. “Just what the fuck do you think you know?”
Casey distorted his face in a crooked smile. “I know we’re on the surveillance camera right now. Look at the face, Banner. I’m the school monster with few friends, you know. I’m not a gossipy old woman, even if I did have someone to gossip to. No percentage in telling stories. Fact is, I’m a misanthrope.”
“A what?” Banner snarled.
“I hate people. It’s a mutual agreement.” Casey narrowed his eyes, watching Banner’s face. “Of course, I could use a friend, a friend who’s in a job like yours, who does what he does on his off hours.”
Banner dropped Casey, flipping up a business card between two fingers. “My number. Your name?”
“I’m going to have an arrest for you, coming up soon.”
“It’ll get your picture in the paper, maybe a promotion.”
“I work in a small shop, little room at the top, but it would be nice for the resume if I ever want to blow this two detective town.” He nodded, giving Casey the up-down. “School monster come to fuck people up like Frankenstein.”
“Yeah, just like Frankenstein.” Doesn’t anyone ever read the book, Casey thought.
Armed with another note from the office, October made her way, announcing, “Why don’t I just check in here each morning before I go to class?” She stopped. “Mom?”
“There’s a family emergency,” Fisher said.
October scrunched her face at Fisher. “Eh, thanks Mr. Fisher.”
Carol Ferguson took October by the elbow, pushing her into the hall. “Not a word.”
“I said, not a word.”
Once out on the concrete skirt between the school and the street, Carol took October by the elbow and shook. “Why didn’t you tell me your were being harassed by the principal?”
“Just where were you when we had those conversations?”
“I don’t need any of your lip. I’m not in the fucking mood.”
October took Carol’s face, going forehead-to-forehead. “Mom, what’s happened?”
A tear crept down Carol’s cheek. “Sorry. Thanks. He came to see me.”
“He was not happy I did not tell him about Markus’ attention.”
October smiled, just a little. “I’m glad he took my warning seriously.”
“Not to hit you.” October smeared the tear with her thumb. “I guess since Principal Markus hasn’t been dismembered in his office or picked off by a sniper in the cafeteria line, the father-I-don’t-have is gathering information.”
“You did say at one time you could make a phone call.” October released her mother. “Principal Markus is the creep-of-the-year, but I feel comfortable in saying that I’m not at risk. He’s been dragged into the light, everyone knows he’s crushing on me and what a pervert he is, so he wouldn’t dare do anything to me.”
“Are you sure? Very sure?”
“Besides all that, Apple has his number and Mace.”
“Apple has Mace?”
“And, she’s not afraid to use it.”
“Maybe we should get you some.”
“No thanks. Apple’s got my back. Apple, and the father-I-don’t-have.”
“You’ll rein him in?”
Carol put a phone to her ear, a phone October had never seen before.